The process for choosing quality child care can feel complicated. Fortunately, there are tools available to help families select the right program. From licensing and inspection report websites to lists of quality indicators, parents have help to narrow down their search for quality child care.

Now in many states, there is another tool available to help families identify high quality child care programs: a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). QRIS programs are valuable for several reasons. Most importantly, they help child care providers provide higher quality care. Along with this, they give families a way to see and compare quality ratings among programs. Quality ratings, if available, are an important indicator of child care quality.

Let’s take a closer look at what you should know about Quality Rating and Improvement Systems.

How do families benefit from QRIS?

A QRIS helps families recognize quality child care. Like a rating for a hotel or restaurant, a child care QRIS uses a set of quality standards to rate child care providers. Most QRIS programs use symbols (such as stars) to indicate levels of quality. Providers earn higher quality ratings as they meet more standards. Families can use QRIS ratings to find child care providers that meet high quality standards. They can also compare quality ratings among providers they’re considering. QRIS ratings are one tool that parents can use to narrow down their child care choices and make an informed decision.

What does a QRIS rating tell me about a provider?

Licensing: Many QRIS programs require a provider to be state licensed in order to participate. Other states consider licensing to be the first level of quality in their rating system. Because QRIS standards and state licensing requirements for child care vary by state, it is a good idea to confirm a child care provider’s license and review inspection reports even if they participate in a QRIS.

Quality Standards: The quality standards used to rate child care providers are set by each state. Many build from the state licensing health and safety requirements. Many states also include standards specific to infants and toddlers as part of their QRIS. While each state’s rating system may be different, there are some overall areas that standards may address. These include provider qualifications, curriculum and learning activities, program administration, family engagement, staff to child ratios and group sizes, and health and safety.

Participation: In several states, child care QRIS is mandatory for licensed child care providers. In other states, QRIS may be voluntary or only required for programs receiving subsidy or other funds. At this time, there are some states that are still planning for or testing their QRIS. Some states have regional QRIS programs. This means it may not be available in all areas of those states. The QRIS National Learning Network has a map showing the status of QRIS in each state.

Ratings: A higher rating means that more quality standards have been noted in a child care program. A lower rating does not necessarily indicate low quality, however. Many times, providers who have just begun the QRIS process will receive the lowest quality rating while they await their first evaluation. Ask potential child care providers if they participate in QRIS and what their rating is. You may also want to ask how long a provider has been working with the QRIS. If they’ve just begun, ask when they expect to receive their next rating. For providers that have been working with the QRIS for some time, ask what steps they’re taking to increase the quality of their care.

How do child care providers benefit from QRIS?

Child care QRIS helps child care providers improve the quality of their care. QRIS programs provide a step-by-step guide to quality improvements. Providers participating in the QRIS often receive training and coaching to help them with the process. Programs and staff may receive financial bonuses from the program. These incentives help programs increase quality and serve as a way to attract child care providers to the program. Financial benefits may include higher subsidy rates, grants and scholarships, tax credits, merit awards and more, depending on the state. Child care providers that participate in QRIS can also use their rating as a marketing tool. Many states have online searches for rated providers; obtaining a higher rating may be a way to draw more families to their program.

How can I find out more about QRIS where I live?

You may be able to find information about your state’s QRIS online. Our State by State Resource Map has information to help you learn more about QRIS in your area, where possible (click on your state, then look on the Child Care category for QRIS information). Your local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency is a great resource for QRIS information. Search for your local CCR&R by clicking the “Search Now” button in the CCR&R Search box on the right-hand side of this page.